Digital health is facing some serious headwinds.
Examples of successful digital health programs with demonstrable return on investment (ROI) exist, but they’re scarce. As we enter the Digital Health 3.0 era, that’s led to a great degree of skepticism about digital health’s promise.
And as with the dot-com boom-and-bust during the late 1990s, which revealed companies of legitimate value and discarded the rest, digital health is entering its own shakeout phase. Digital products that can’t demonstrate ROI – clinical, financial or both – will find it tough to survive.
The challenge is compounded by the difficult macroeconomic climate, coupled with venture capital (VC) funding’s continued decline. That means less investment, but will also force smarter investment decisions, both by VCs, and by the companies spending their cash.
All that said, the scale and scope of the benefits offered by digital health are enormous. Life science companies can follow a few key precepts to unlock that value, bringing better, more effective treatments to many more patients.
- Integrate digital across the enterprise
Companies have tended to try a bolt-on approach to digital health, slapping haphazard solutions onto products after they’re already on the market. That backward-looking, stand-alone approach is destined to fail.
Instead, the focus should be on digital as a key strategic component across the enterprise, another arrow in the tactical quiver, rather than as something to be pursued on the side.
Over the long term, digital is a powerful way to forge relationships with patients and build positive brand awareness, and ultimately it enables the creation of a platform ecosystem that spans the treatment areas addressed.
- Don’t rebuild the wheel
Life science firms should look to build a small digital team that can work effectively with third-party vendors, who have the technical expertise it would take years to develop in-house. That’s important not only from a practical standpoint – pharma’s good at doing pharma, not at building cloud infrastructure – but, crucially, from a regulatory and compliance view.
To scale globally, a digital platform must be able to comply with regulations governing multiple jurisdictions, that are constantly in flux, with a robust Quality Management System that can prove compliance even in retrospect. Creating a fully compliant platform from scratch is just not part of the life sciences’ core competencies.
- Use digital where it works
Not every drug or device needs a digital component, but that still leaves huge categories of treatments that can benefit from the technology. It’s incumbent on chief commercial officers and R&D leaders to work with their digital counterparts internally to align around identifying and prioritizing best use cases. That requires a deep (and mutual) understanding of their product portfolio, its pain points, where digital can help and an alignment of incentives and budgets.
- Harvest and reap the data – then sow it again
Digital health products – companion apps and digital therapeutics, for example – generate reams of valuable data that can help inform the design of future projects and help refine current programs.
Digital diagnostics also offer huge benefits, helping identify patients and match them with appropriate therapies, speeding development, and predicting individuals’ responses to treatments. And the benefits are of a similar scale in terms of patient adherence and compliance.
Take for example the Hizentra® app that BrightInsight co-created with CSL Behring. Hizentra treats patients with two rare diseases, Primary Immune Deficiency (PI) or Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP). The companion app assists in the transition from in-clinic infusion therapy to self-infusion at home, enabling patients to easily track treatments, receive reminders and record and share their infusion journal with their doctor. The app quickly achieved an adoption rate of 20% of the brand’s patient population in the U.S., and a retention rate from 90 days to 12 months of 89% – nearly double the industry average 45%.
A Case Study from 2022 showed that the app allowed CSL to capture more than 800,000 electronic patient reported outcomes (ePROs), and more than 160,000 home self-administrations of the drug; these data are powering important insights that can be used to improve care. For example, the data showed that patients with treatments scheduled for a specific day of the week had significantly higher adherence (80%) than patients who scheduled their infusions based on an interval between days (64%).
- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
Digital health technology is evolving so quickly that a project with a very long timeline might be obsolete before it gets off the ground. A 2023 survey by HealthXL of more than 60 representatives from pharma, digital health, healthcare, venture capital and medtech showed that more than 40% believe that digital health programs should be able to demonstrate value within one to two years.
It's important to set realistic timelines for digital health programs that will allow for enough time to achieve the goals and deliver the ROI being sought, but not so long that they’re doomed from the start.
Your KPIs should also evolve over time. Building the digital capability in-house to partner with brand leaders and launch a companion app to capture and synthesize real-world data could be milestone one. Improving user metrics, such as retention rate after three months could be milestone two. Acting on that data to enhance the app and create more stickiness with patients could be milestone three. Too often we see companies where their one goal is to get X number of app downloads. That’s not going to drive long-term value or differentiation for your drugs.
As the digital health wheat is shaken from the chaff, disciplined life science players that embrace the technology at the enterprise level, stay focused on well-defined ROI metrics, and leverage data to improve outcomes can achieve success in an increasingly challenging environment.
Originally published at Nasdaq.com.